Boulder Valley School District Online
For improving graduation rates and meeting students’ needs by providing online options for credit recovery and supplemental learning.
Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) launched a strategic plan in the fall of 2015 to boost graduation rates for its student body of 30,000. One component was the expansion of BVSD Online, a supplemental online program that offers BVSD students full-semester courses and credit recovery courses from high-quality providers such as Fuel Education®(FuelEd®).
The credit recovery courses help students get back on track after they fail a class. Admissions Officer Jamie Baker says BVSD Online aims to provide options to recover credits and to prevent students from failing the same course over and over again. The addition of an Admissions Officer in 2013 helped BVSD Online improve collaboration across the district to identify struggling students, get them enrolled in online courses sooner, and provide them with consistent mentoring. This helps students sustain momentum and results in far fewer repeat failures, says Baker. The most important outcome, she says, is that students see they can learn the material and are more hopeful about subsequent courses.
BVSD Online’s full-semester courses provide options for students looking to get ahead, those needing to alleviate scheduling conflicts, especially during athletic or performance seasons, or those who want courses to meet their diverse interests. In the 2017–2018 school year, BVSD Online enrolled 550 students in more than 650 courses1. During the summer of 2017, BVSD Online enrolled over 1,200 students in more than 1,600 courses!1
BVSD Online also provides a mentoring program to support BVSD Online students. Baker visits schools, meets with students, teachers, and counselors, and provides personalized support. Students taking BVSD Online courses in the summer also have access to a “summer lab”—a physical space where they can get free and reliable WiFi, use their own or a district provided device, and meet with teachers or a tutor for additional support.
BVSD Online selected Fuel Education as a partner because of the wide variety of rigorous, challenging courses offered by FuelEd. “It was a matter of finding courses that were high-quality, user friendly, and had good content,” says Diana Gamboa, BVSD’s Director of Online Learning and Principal of Boulder Universal, the district’s online school.
The district’s overall graduation rates have been consistently high, but not for those who fail a course early in their high school years. The completion rate for credit recovery courses rose from 58 percent in 2014 to 81 percent in 20181. Baker and Gamboa attribute this in part to the attention to all details of the program: quality courses, using district-employed teachers, and consistent feedback and progress monitoring of students. Over the same period, the completion rate for full-semester courses rose from 72 percent to 93 percent1, indicating that all students can benefit from these program improvements. Enrollment in BVSD Online courses grew 20 percent in each of the past two years and is expected to do the same again this summer1.
The program’s goal is to reduce and eliminate the need for credit recovery courses as well as increase the number of students taking one or more full-semester courses as part of their regular school schedule.
“Our district holds itself to a high standard and we want to be able to serve students in the best way possible,” says Baker. “BVSD Online helps us meet the needs of all students, whether they’re trying to boost their GPA, learn French, or make up a failing grade in Chemistry. It’s great to be able to offer a program that quickly puts students back on the path toward graduation and gives them the confidence to achieve their dreams.”
1 This data is from Infinite Campus, BVSD’s Student Information System.
California STEAM San Bernardino
For supplementing online coursework with innovative projects like virtual makerspaces, STEAM fairs, coding workshops, drone-enabled virtual field trips, and more.
California STEAM San Bernardino is a full-time online school that pushes the envelope in project-based learning by providing an innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) program for students in grades K–12.
The school is part of A3, a network of online charter schools in California. Approximately 78.2 percent of California STEAM San Bernardino’s 350 students live at or below the poverty level, 48 percent live in rural or farming communities, and 62.5 percent are ethnic minorities and/or female, according to A3’s internal demographic data. California STEAM San Bernardino’s initiative is designed to meet these students’ needs, according to A3’s Chief Operating Officer Damian Jenkins.
California STEAM San Bernardino uses Fuel Education® (FuelEd®) curriculum to provide students with rigorous online courses, coupled with innovative projects, including virtual makerspaces, STEAM fairs, coding workshops, and drone-enabled activities like virtual field trips.
“Students construct their own roller coasters and present them during virtual makerspace events. Small teams use scientific inquiry to create projects to present at the bi-annual Virtual Science Fair where projects from all over the United States are professionally adjudicated,” says Jenkins. “Edgy, nerdy coding workshops provide access to forms of student expression not previously imagined, yet relevant to the new global reality in which our students live. “Mammal cams” and iNaturalist are made available to students to help them better understand their impact on ecosystems, wildlife, and communities through technological means.”
Courses are taught by teachers trained in STEAM education, which Jenkins calls the “STEAM Team.” The school also organizes face-to-face meetups for students to interact in person with their classmates, teachers, and mentors. To encourage parental participation and work around students’ schedules, the school provides online classes during evening hours and on Saturdays so working parents can participate in live sessions like the makerspace events, says Angie Vega, a principal in the A3 network who led the STEAM initiative at the San Bernardino school.
Since its launch in 2017, the STEAM initiative has driven student participation and is meeting the needs of the school’s diverse student body. For example, when the science fair became a STEAM fair in 2017, participation in the fair more than doubled and the percentage of participants who were female and/or part of an ethnic minority group grew from 22 percent in 2017 to 50 percent, according to A3’s internal demographic data. Among coding workshop participants, 48 percent are female and 59 percent are part of an ethnic minority group, and participation in the virtual makerspaces increased from 15 to 66 families, according to the school’s data.
“The STEAM team and students examine new perspectives on reality through drones, explore new ideas within virtual makerspaces, and co-construct insights into our biodiverse world through technology-enhanced exploration and coding,” says Jenkins. “What they have accomplished is completely remarkable, and it is foundational to our positive, edgy, and nerdy school culture which is enjoyed by all!”
Genesis Innovative School
For implementing full-time, statewide virtual school opportunities to provide students with rigorous online courses in a learning model that meets their individual needs.
The Genesis Innovative School is a full-time, statewide online public school in Conecuh County, a rural school district in southwest Alabama. The school was created by the Conecuh County school district in 2015 to provide more options for Alabama students who wanted to take online courses and to help the district meet a state mandate that requires each Alabama public school system to adopt a policy providing, at a minimum, a virtual education option for eligible students in Grades 9–12 before the 2016–2017 school year.
“We’ve found a great need for online schooling,” says Mary Ann Danford, Genesis Innovative Administrator for Conecuh County Schools. “These students have really found their niche at Genesis.”
According to Danford, about 90 percent of the 400 students at Genesis are from outside of the district. Many enrolled because they wanted to supplement their homeschooling programs or because they were unable to attend a brick-and-mortar school due to travel, work schedules, or other reasons.
The Genesis Innovative School uses online curriculum from Fuel Education® (FuelEd®). Danford says the quality and rigor of the courses, as well as the assistance of Fuel Education’s Academic Mentors, has helped Genesis students make tremendous academic gains.
Danford says teachers also have many anecdotes that show the power of online schooling. One example is about a special education student who lives in Conecuh County and is enrolled in FuelEd courses through the Genesis Innovative School. “The child was in the FuelEd program last year and this year,” says Danford. “When we had her IEP meeting this year and looked at her standardized test growth she has shown two years of academic gain just this school year alone. I attribute that to a rigorous content-based curriculum that she is getting at Genesis.”
Newman Crows Landing Unified School District
For individualizing instruction using real-time data from an engaging adaptive learning tool to boost elementary classroom performance.
Located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District (NCLUSD) serves the communities of Newman, Crows Landing, and Diablo where most of the jobs revolve around the agriculture industry. Unlike many highly mobile agricultural communities, a high percentage of workers in the valley are employed year-round and have become permanent residents of the area; therefore, their children remain in the district throughout much or all of their K–12 school experience. While this has created a stable student population and strong sense of community, the district is tasked with meeting students’ greatly varying needs. “With the wide range of skill levels among our students, we needed better formative assessment tools to help identify individual learning needs and help students when and where they need it most,” says Superintendent Randy Fillpot.
To better help identify students’ needs, NCLUSD is using Stride™, an online adaptive learning solution from Fuel Education® (FuelEd®), with approximately 1,500 students across the district’s four elementary schools.
Stride moves students toward mastery in math, language arts, reading, and science, and is aligned with state and national standards. The adaptive engine adjusts the difficulty of questions based on the student’s skill level, thus ensuring he or she practices needed skills and concepts. When students answer questions correctly, they earn Stride “coins,” which are redeemed to play Stride games. Almost daily, teachers carve out class time for students to work in Stride using district-provided Chromebooks, either individually at their desks or in small groups. On Fridays, students redeem their coins for gaming time.
The real-time feedback Stride provides students is essential to Julia Cope, a third-grade teacher at Bonita Elementary School, and her teaching approach. “As I walk around while students are using Stride, they’ll ask me questions right then, and we can problem solve together to find the answer,” she explains. “They really get excited when they answer questions correctly, not just because they earn a Stride coin, but because they’re really motivated by doing better.”
Stride’s built-in benchmark and formative assessments provide insight into student progress, which is a useful tool for data-driven individualized instruction. For example, the data can identify students who are struggling with a particular standard, which helps the teacher provide additional support until they master the standard. The data also identifies students who may need an additional challenge. The teacher can then alter the difficulty of these students’ questions in Stride.
Janeth Castillo, a fifth-grade teacher at Von Renner Elementary School, typically has five groups running concurrently during her class, and the groups change weekly based on progress and standards levels. “It makes it easy for me to see what I need to work on, and the assessment has already been done for me,” says Castillo. “It also gives me peace of mind that I know they are working independently on the right concepts, and that they will be successful.”
Teachers can also use Stride’s question database to construct custom quizzes that specifically address a standard or set of standards. This saves teachers time because they no longer have to build quizzes from scratch—or grade them, because Stride automatically does that.
“Stride has contributed to a growing percentage of our district’s elementary students performing at or above grade level, and kids are more engaged in their learning experience overall,” says Kim Bettencourt, the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Our kids work hard to earn coins. It is immediate positive reinforcement and they love to play the games.”
In the four years since NCLUSD implemented Stride, it has become an essential component of the district’s elementary school instructional program. “Stride has really helped improve learning, and it gives us real-time visibility into students’ progress and the standards on which to focus,” says Superintendent Fillpot.
Orestimba High School
For creating a new way for students to study and explore their interests via access to online courses at a rural school with a 100 percent graduation rate.
“We conducted surveys with our teachers and students and found students wanted more time to do work on campus,” says Justin Pruett, Principal of Orestimba High School in Newman, CA. “This got us thinking of instituting a study hall, but we needed to find a way to create a study hall for all students—not just high-achieving students or those with time in their schedules.”
The effectiveness of study hall speaks for itself. The school has maintained a 100 percent graduation rate for three years straight, attendance is just shy of 100 percent, and the school’s scores on the English Language Arts California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) are higher than the county and state averages.
By shaving nine minutes off of each class period, the school was able to create eight periods of study hall a day. Approximately 100 students are assigned to each study hall period during which they can work on whatever they want, wherever on campus they want. In addition, students who need more supervision are provided a study hall with teacher support. To expand the range of courses students can take, the school gave them access to online courses from Fuel Education® (FuelEd®), which they take using their school-issued Chromebooks.
“Our philosophy is students need to follow their own passions, but how can you do this for 900 students?” says Pruett. “To offer a new course, schools have to have at least 30 students interested and a teacher who can teach it. With FuelEd, if just one student is curious about a subject, he or she can take the course during study hall or at home.”
Students take a vast array of electives, Advanced Placement® and honors courses, world languages, as well as FuelEd Career Readiness Pathways™ courses. Newman is an agricultural town and the school has a 3.5-acre almond tree orchard on campus, so many students take courses in FuelEd’s agriculture Career Cluster®. A combination of FuelEd courses and courses taught by Orestimba staff help students learn how to care for and harvest the orchard.
Study hall also creates an opportunity for students to recover credits. For example, some students entering 9th grade need to take a remedial English class. However, California’s a-g subject requirements mandate that students take four years of college preparatory English. Since the remedial class is not a college preparatory-level class, these students need to make up the 9th grade English class or they will not meet the a-g graduation requirements, thus limiting which state colleges they can attend. Using FuelEd Credit Recovery courses, these students can take the English 9 course online during study hall or at home to meet their a-g and graduation requirements.
“When students shoot to meet requirements but fall short, instead of punishing them we ask them, ‘how do you recover?’” says Pruett. “FuelEd allows us to give students a second chance to meet goals, and the courses’ integrity and rigor ensures these students are working for it. We’re not handing them the credit. They earned it.”
Pruett has found that study hall has been specifically impactful for English Language Development (ELD) students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and students in special education. ELD students have additional time to work on assignments; low socioeconomic students have extra time to access resources they may not have at home; and students in special education now have built-in time to explore elective or CTE courses. In the past, these students did not have time to take electives or CTE courses because their support classes filled up their schedules.
While Pruett thought adding the study hall would solely benefit students, it has also been a great asset for teachers. “Teachers now have the chance to talk professionally with their peers on a daily basis,” says Pruett. During study hall periods, teachers can review student progress data; make adjustments to instruction; align their curriculum to department, school, and district goals; mentor new teachers; and develop and track goals all with the help of their peers.
“School culture is at an all-time high,” says Pruett. “The community feels like Orestimba High School is a great place to send their children.”
Southwest Plains Regional Service Center
For giving dropouts and at-risk students an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and expanding access to online courses to hundreds of students across the state.
Southwest Kansas is known for its meat packing industry and teacher shortages, which create unique challenges for school districts in the region: students sometimes drop out of school to work in the meat packing plants and teacher vacancies make it difficult to teach core subjects at varying skill levels, let alone a wide range of electives. Southwest Plains Regional Service Center (SWPRSC) in Sublette, KS, partnered with Fuel Education® (FuelEd®) to overcome these challenges.
SWPRSC manages community learning centers (CLCs) in Dodge City and Scott City to give students the opportunity to earn their high school diploma. When an individual wants to start classes, they go to one of the centers and the CLC facilitator contacts their previous school to obtain a copy of their transcript. After analyzing their transcript, the facilitator creates a personalized learning plan with a list of FuelEd online courses the student will need to complete in order to earn their diploma. Once the learning plan is reviewed and approved by SWPRSC’s partner high school, students can enroll in the online courses. With year-round open enrollment, they can start classes anytime. The CLCs are equipped with desktop computers, internet access, and on-site mentors to help students as they complete their online coursework.
While this program was designed for students who dropped out of high school, it has helped other student populations as well. Students who want to work at the meat packing plants can continue their schooling without dropping out because the CLCs provide the flexibility to earn credits on their own time, not around a school schedule. The CLCs also provide a way for the region’s influx of Somali and Latino immigrants to recover credits and work toward a diploma.
In addition to helping these student populations, Bill Losey, Senior Consultant and Community Learning Center Principal at SWPRSC, says the student population that has been most positively impacted by the CLCs are students at risk of dropping out because it gives them a second chance. During the 2017–2018 school year alone, the two CLCs have awarded 25 high school diplomas that would not have been given otherwise—which has helped open the doors to more opportunities for these high school graduates.
After seeing the success of online courses at the CLCs, SWPRSC realized that FuelEd could help rural districts across the state provide instruction for subjects where they were experiencing teacher vacancies. SWPRSC reached out to superintendents across the state to give their districts access to FuelEd online courses. Currently, approximately 800 students are enrolled in FuelEd online courses.
“Many of these rural schools are very small and are unable to staff teachers for a wide array of courses outside the core subjects,” says Losey. “We encouraged superintendents to use the FuelEd online courses to provide students with courses they may not have access to otherwise, including electives, Advanced Placementâ and honors, credit recovery opportunities, foreign languages, and career exploration. No matter what problem or challenge we face, FuelEd is able to provide a solution.”
Watson Institute Social Center for Academic Achievement
For providing a personalized, yet flexible and stable learning experience for students with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The Watson Institute Social Center for Academic Achievement (WISCA) in Pittsburgh, PA, serves students in grades K–12 with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Students with ASD sometimes struggle to succeed in traditional school settings because of varying therapeutic needs, social misperceptions, and different learning styles.
Each classroom at WISCA has eight students, a special education teacher, and an instructional assistant. School staff assists students with organizational skills and modifies assignments so students can work more independently. To provide instruction in core subjects and electives, WISCA uses online courses and online educators from Fuel Education® (FuelEd®).
“FuelEd’s online teachers are our content area teachers because our staff alone wouldn’t be able to teach every subject and grade level we need,” says Marcia Laus, WISCA’s Coordinator. “Using online courses means we can serve all students’ academic abilities, including those who may take courses in different grades across subject areas. We can also offer students more courses based on their interests and strengths, like APâ and honors classes, and students can recover credits they may have lost in their original schools.”
While FuelEd teachers provide primary instruction, WISCA staff make course modifications to meet needs outlined in students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). This includes giving more time to complete assignments or courses and exempting them from discussion groups or longer written assignments—both of which can be difficult for some students with ASD. WISCA staff can also replace reading assignments with those that are more suited to each student’s interests to better motivate them.
At WISCA, Laus says learning life skills such as social skills, self-regulation, self-esteem, and coping strategies, are just as important as academics. Since students complete online courses at their own pace, their schedules can accommodate meeting with WISCA mental health therapists both individually and in small groups. “If a student is having a rough day, he or she can meet with his or her therapist and pick up their studies where they left off when they are ready,” says Laus.
WISCA also has a peer mentoring program where mentors work with mentees to further hone their life skills by sharing strategies to deal with issues such as stress or anxiety. These relationships often lead to close friendships.
A transition coordinator works with students to gain independence after graduation by helping to place them in work settings or adult vocational and life skills programs, or helping them enroll in community college or university classes.
“Using FuelEd Online Courses is a positive change for our school,” says Laus. “The courses have consistent, routine presentations that promote independence and organization. Their flexibility allows us to individualize the learning experience for all of our students, provide rigorous and standards-based lessons with highly qualified subject area teachers, and give students the specialized support they need.”